It seems everybody has something to say about transportation these days — including members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
With a vote expected this week on a bill that would increase the gas tax, raise corporate minimum taxes, and impose higher fees on Uber and Lyft rides, lawmakers have filed dozens of amendments to tinker with the laws.
For some, the proposed 5 cents-per-gallon increase in the gas tax isn’t enough. One amendment would have it go up an additional 10 cents, phased in through 2024, while pairing the increases with an expansion of the state’s earned income tax credit to offset the gas price hikes for working families.
Another proposal would allow cities and towns to institute a local gas tax, on top of the state rate, while others would undo language in the current bill that is meant to nullify the effect of the gas tax if the state joins a proposed regional climate program that could also increase gas prices.
Other amendments swing the other way, allowing a tax deduction for senior citizens to offset the 5-cent increase or one stipulating that only Suffolk and Middlesex counties would be subject to higher gas taxes.
There’s also significant interest in the proposed new fees on Uber and Lyft, which under the bill would increase to $1.20 on most rides, from 20 cents currently, though carpool trips would remain at 20 cents. Various proposals spelled out higher or lower rates, while still others moved to exempt the fees on trips for riders with disabilities or those provided in electric vehicles.
Some lawmakers called for using some of the new revenue to offset bus fares, echoing the growing pressure from activists and some elected officials to make public transit cheaper or even free for riders. The current House bill does not include such provisions, though the Senate has indicated it’s interested in exploring the idea when it takes up transportation funding.
The current bill also calls for the creation of a commission to study ideas like congestion pricing and other uses of tolling.
But some amendments call for more immediate action, including a potential test of congestion pricing, using toll discounts outside of rush hour, as soon as 2021. Another calls for the commission to also consider ways to raise money for the roads if and when electric vehicles are widely adopted and the gas tax becomes obsolete.
Then there’s the issue of governance at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The House bill breaks with a plan from Governor Charlie Baker by recommending that the Fiscal and Management Control Board continue to exist, whereas Baker seeks a new structure, starting in July. However, some House members filed amendments recommending new seats on the current board for municipal government, bringing it closer to Baker’s recommendation.
Another proposal from some of the chamber’s Republicans calls for the gas tax and corporate taxes to be rescinded if voters approve a likely ballot question in 2022 to raise taxes on income over $1 million.
Lawmakers are also filing amendments for a separate but related $14.5 billion bond bill, mostly by recommending other potential transportation projects the bill would authorize. For example, one amendment seeks to restore authorization for hundreds of millions of dollars to overhaul the roads near the Cape Cod Canal automobile bridges, which had been proposed by Baker but was removed by House leaders.